By Nick Diamantides
Signal Hill’s residents and businesses have learned how to use less water. In fact, from July through September 2009, water use dropped by 9.47 percent compared to the average annual water demand for the three previous years. Joshua Rosenbaum, public works management analyst, said that decrease is very impressive considering the fact that July through September are the three hottest, driest months of the year.
Rosenbaum said the reduced water usage is not likely to result in increased water rates. (Some cities have raised water rates to make up for the decline in water revenues.) He explained that for years Signal Hill has gotten 10 percent of its water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), but a 10-percent reduction in water demand would eliminate the need to purchase water from that agency. “If we don’t have to get 10 percent of our water from the MWD, we would actually have a savings in cost,” Rosenbaum said, explaining that revenues derived from water bills would still be adequate to cover operating costs. He added that MWD water is more expensive than water the city obtains from its own water wells.
Signal Hill’s current water-conservation efforts began several months ago when the city council– at the recommendation of the public works department– declared a Phase 1 Water Supply Shortage due to an anticipated 10-percent reduction in water supply. “Meanwhile, MWD finalized their draft model ordinance for water conservation programs that was made available to local jurisdictions,” Rosenbaum said. He explained that public works staff refined the model ordinance to make it appropriate for Signal Hill and presented it to the city council on May 20, 2009. The council adopted the ordinance, which is a mandatory water-conservation program, and it went into effect on June 18.
“Since adoption of the ordinance, the public works department has carried out a comprehensive public-education and outreach campaign to reach as wide an audience as possible,” Rosenbaum said, explaining that, without the public’s cooperation, the city could not meet its conservation goals.
The education and outreach program included having a public works employee disseminate water-conservation information at the Sustainable Committee’s kiosk during the Summer Concerts in the Park series. A public works employee also made a presentation on water conservation at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Other outreach efforts included public notices published in the Signal Tribune and water-bill inserts informing customers of water-use restrictions. “The city’s environmental consultant also visited restaurants and provided them with table tents to inform patrons that water is only served upon their request,” Rosenbaum noted.
He added that the city is still in the public-education and outreach phase of its water-conservation program and so far no citations have been issued to violators of the restrictions. Instead, violators receive a verbal warning when possible, a door hanger and a letter informing them of their violation and advising them of the mandatory restrictions now in effect. Rosenbaum noted that while some residents phone City Hall to report neighbors who are not complying with the law, public works crews discover most violations during the course of their workday. Rosenbaum said the city is reluctant to issue fines to violators but may start doing so in the future. “The water restrictions are not meant to generate revenue but to accomplish conservation goals,” he said. “But if there are repeated violators who don’t respond to our letters, and they continue to violate without any regard to the city’s restrictions, then we will issue fines.”
Rosenbaum praised the pubic works staff for the successful outreach program. “This has really been a team effort,” he said, adding that he expects water usage to decrease even more during the next six months. “Thirty to 40 percent of water use goes to irrigation of landscaped areas,” he said. “During the rainy season, people do not need to irrigate as much as they do during the summer months.”
He also praised the public for cooperating with the city’s conservation efforts and encouraged everyone to continue conserving water. “We appreciate the residents and businesses doing their part,” he said. “We cannot do it alone.”
For more information on water use restrictions and tips on how to conserve water go to www.cityofsignalhill.org and click on the “Water Conservation Program” link, or phone (562) 989-7305.